The Ungoverned

In his column in the Washington Post this morning Robert Kagan calls on “the world” to intervene in Pakistan:

So if the world is indeed not to be held hostage by non-state actors operating from Pakistan, what can be done?


Rather than simply begging the Indians to show restraint, a better option could be to internationalize the response. Have the international community declare that parts of Pakistan have become ungovernable and a menace to international security. Establish an international force to work with the Pakistanis to root out terrorist camps in Kashmir as well as in the tribal areas. This would have the advantage of preventing a direct military confrontation between India and Pakistan. It might also save face for the Pakistani government, since the international community would be helping the central government reestablish its authority in areas where it has lost it. But whether or not Islamabad is happy, don’t the international community and the United States, at the end of the day, have some obligation to demonstrate to the Indian people that we take attacks on them as seriously as we take attacks on ourselves?

Would such an action violate Pakistan’s sovereignty? Yes, but nations should not be able to claim sovereign rights when they cannot control territory from which terrorist attacks are launched.

On the one hand my immediate reaction to Mr. Kagan’s column was to wonder what color the sky was in the world of which he writes. “The international community” speaks through international institutions. NATO is, essentially, a North American-European alliance, as one might guess from the name of the organization. It doesn’t speak for the world.

The only international institution that comes to mind as having the sort of internationalness that would be required for such an action is the United Nations and there is no chance whatever that the United Nations would muster a force to step over the Pakistani government to subdue areas of Pakistan that the government of Pakistan hasn’t had the ability or willingness to bring under its own control. Russia and China, each a permanent member of the Security Council with the veto that brings, simply won’t allow it to happen.

Such an action could, presumably, be one for the “league of democracies” that Sen. McCain spoke of in the presidential campaign. IMO venue shopping of that sort reduces legitimacy ipso facto and, consequently, such an institution by its mere existence would undermine the very legitimacy that it seeks.

How would such an institution function? If it requires unanimity, we probably will be left in the fix we’re in now. If it operates by simple majority or, possibly, even by supermajority, we may well be drawn into battles we don’t want to fight.

For good or ill we are stuck with the international community we have and the UN speaks for it.

On the other hand I’m very glad that Mr. Kagan has brought up the key security challenge that faces us.

Our grand strategy has succeeded. The strength and capabilities of our military and our nuclear arsenal have successfully deterred near-peer military confrontation and will do so for the foreseeable future. Surrogates aren’t nearly as effective as they used to be during the Cold War, possibly because that Russia’s objectives are self-serving is more obvious than that the Soviet Union’s were. It’s easier for a prospective client to see the bear’s teeth when they aren’t obscured by the hammer and sickle.

The greatest remaining threat is from non-state actors, particularly those with the tacit support of states, who mostly find a home in ungoverned territories.

Look around at the areas of greatest trouble today: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Congo, Sudan. They’re all really ungoverned areas with a thin veneer of central government.

That’s why, rather than undermining the Westphalian system by strengthening generally unaccountable international institutions or non-government actors, I favor supporting it. Pakistan needs to be held accountable for what goes on within its borders. That’s the international consensus we should be seeking.

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Dave Schuler
About Dave Schuler
Over the years Dave Schuler has worked as a martial arts instructor, a handyman, a musician, a cook, and a translator. He's owned his own company for the last thirty years and has a post-graduate degree in his field. He comes from a family of politicians, teachers, and vaudeville entertainers. All-in-all a pretty good preparation for blogging. He has contributed to OTB since November 2006 but mostly writes at his own blog, The Glittering Eye, which he started in March 2004.


  1. Bithead says:

    Well, two things.
    The UN has been worse than useless in the matter, as they usually are.

    Secondly, that Kagen thinks a response is needed in Pakistan suggests by extnsion that a response was needed to the very same symptoms in Iraq and Afghanistan… how ever that was to be had.

  2. […] Outside the Beltway: Because that’s worked so well! How about Bushizing the international response. […]

  3. […] Outside the Beltway this morning I’ve published a pair of posts on international relations. The first is a response to Robert Kagan’s column urging the international community to respond to the […]

  4. ken says:

    That’s why, rather than undermining the Westphalian system by strengthening generally unaccountable international institutions or non-government actors, I favor supporting it. Pakistan needs to be held accountable for what goes on within its borders. That’s the international consensus we should be seeking.

    Who is going to hold Pakistan accountable? Are you suggesting India go to war against Pakistan over this incident?

  5. Bithead says:

    How about Pakistan approaching the real powers of the world and saying:
    “This is beyond our ability to control. Can you help us out, here?” … seems aresponsible way to go. To some degree that is what Mushariff tried to do.

  6. […] Dave Schuler at Outside the Beltway thinks Kagan’s idea is admirable but, like so many of its ilk, founders on the shoals of reality: […]

  7. charles johnson says:

    We’re finding out in Afghanistan that those kinds of hard-terrain, lawless tribal regions are essentially uncontrollable by foreign armies. We’ve been in Afghanistan for 7 years now and we control little more than Kabul. We aren’t doing much better than the Soviets did there, and we’re going to have to go home at some point and it looks like when we do, the Taliban will reestablish control. Expanding our Afghanistan stalemate into Pakistan would not be wise. It would accomplish more of what we’re accomplishing in Afghanistan–nothing–while costing still more lives and billions.